by Manisha Singh, Assistant Secretary Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs
Heritage Foundation, Washington, DC
Kay, I am honored and humbled to receive such an introduction from someone who embodies the definition of great leadership. The Heritage Foundation is incredibly lucky to have you at its helm. You have been a champion of women leaders and entrepreneurs and inspiration not just to women, but to everyone. I want to thank your great staff at Heritage, especially Ana Quintana and Olivia Enos, who have facilitated this event today.
Heritage has always promoted economic freedom around the world, recognizing that such freedom leads to better opportunities and more stable societies overall. I am an avid consumer of the Index of Economic Freedom which defines economic freedom as “the fundamental right of every human to control his or her own labor and property.”
At the State Department, economic freedom, prosperity and security for American workers and companies are central to our mission. I lead a team of 200 people in State’s Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs here in Washington along with almost 2,000 economic officers at embassies and consulates around the world.
Our mission has been further defined and strengthened by President Trump in the National Security Strategy which indicates that Economic Security is National Security. Being a secure nation includes having a strong domestic economy, being able to provide the essentials for our own defense and having an economy and trade agreements that work for everyone. The NSS further states “Societies that empower women to participate fully in civic and economic life are more prosperous and more peaceful.”
The result is a strong, secure American economy where women play a vital role in its success. This is also my personal vision for the Economic Bureau and our contribution to the country. And I’m delighted to be here during Women’s History Month to share my thoughts with you on this topic.
Economic success for women is about more than having a seat in the boardroom or running our own companies. It’s ultimately about controlling our own fates and our own futures. Its about moving societies forward for everyone’s benefit. And you don’t need to just take my word for it. Statistics show that empowering women in the labor force is simply smart economic policy.
The American economy is experiencing its longest economic expansion on record due to the Trump Administration’s pro-growth policies. We have historic low unemployment numbers and sustained GDP growth with a strong stock market that will rebound. The jobs report in February exceeded expectations and the economy added 273,000 jobs.
The number of women in the workforce is high, and women entrepreneurs are the fastest-growing demographic in our prosperity narrative. We need to continue this momentum and improve the platforms, the access to resources and remove barriers that women entrepreneurs may face.
This idea has the full support of the Administration in the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity, or WGDP, Initiative, with which many of you may be familiar. Exactly as the name implies, when women participate fully in the economy, the GDPs of nations rise.
President Trump signed an Executive Order establishing WGDP last year. It is being implemented under the leadership of Senior Advisor Ivanka Trump. Last month, she and Secretary Pompeo hosted the one-year anniversary of the WGDP with representatives from throughout the USG at the State Department. The initiative aims to reach 50 million women by 2025 and will focus on the following three pillars: (1) Women Prospering in the Workforce, (2) Women Succeeding as Entrepreneurs and (3) Women Enabled in the Economy. It’s the first whole of government approach to advancing women’s economic empowerment.
Turning to the statistics I mentioned earlier, the White House Council of Economic Advisors has determined that fully eliminating restrictions on women’s economic participation could increase annual global GDP by $7.7 trillion or 8.3%. Quite a compelling case for the full economic involvement of over half the world’s population.
To reach these numbers, we can mobilize platforms and resources to enable women to start their own companies and enterprises. In my bureau, we determined to use our best skills and assets, including partnering with the private sector to create the ultimate “POWER” tool. And by POWER, I mean Providing Opportunities for Women’s Economic Rise.
How did POWER originate? Well, as I discussed earlier, a strong economy, including full participation by women, is central to President Trump’s National Security Strategy. And then my personal story: when I was nominated to head the Economic Bureau, I did research on the position. I looked at the list of my predecessors, going back to the 1940s when this position was created. I realized that I was not like the others. I was the first woman to be nominated and eventually confirmed by the Senate for this role. I committed to make it a priority to ensure that women should have every opportunity to be pillars of our economy. In my subsequent travels, I met with women business owners all over the world, and in my conversations, whether here at home or overseas, I kept hearing similar thoughts. Some women wanted to start their own business, others had enterprises which they wanted to scale and grow. As the State Department’s economic arm, how could we help?
Well, we could create actionable solutions to the challenges that women entrepreneurs face when trying to access global markets. What does that mean? I’ll explain.
Our first tier of the initiative was to solicit proposals from our embassies and consulates around the world. We asked that these proposals identify specific methods or tools to better assist American women entrepreneurs access the market in their host country and vice versa. The two required criteria are 1) a U.S. nexus and 2) a concrete deliverable result.
The idea was to create a network to provide resources and identify barriers through partnerships with the private sector utilizing our missions abroad as the conveners. And we have modest funding that we grant to the top proposals. I thought we would get a few of them, but my staff and I have combed through dozens just on our first round.
We have drawn on the full breadth of our diplomatic network, private sector partnerships and existing U.S. government programs. These connections facilitate business development and investment among women entrepreneurs leading to better export opportunities, better funding and importantly, the ability to hire more workers. We have also included women’s economic empowerment as a central component in at least six annual bilateral economic dialogues with other nations, emphasizing its centrality to our mission.
Like the WGDP, we are celebrating one year of POWER! Last spring, for our launch, we invited some of our private sector friends who share our deep commitment to provide their input and discuss ways in which our embassies could partner with them on POWER proposals. And last week, we again convened private sector stakeholders to discuss progress and build new partnerships.
Currently, we have POWER projects in 14 countries with more to come soon. Let me share a few of them with you.
In September of last year, U.S. Embassy Jakarta partnered with Mastercard to showcase U.S. private sector solutions in the Fintech space at the first Indonesian International Fintech Festival. An outcome of this was the establishment of a working group for women in fintech. This group will promote cross-border access to resources for women entrepreneurs and strengthen U.S.-Indonesian business ties. Our stakeholders are expanding potential partnerships in the region to help women entrepreneurs build professional networks and access more financing opportunities.
Another winning project was submitted by our U.S. Embassy in Azerbaijan. For this project, Price Waterhouse Coopers in Baku supported a 10-week business development training program for women SMEs. They were matched with representatives from the U.S. private sector and with the American Chambers of Commerce to explore business relationships with American women-led SMEs.
Here in the Western Hemisphere, a great project was submitted by our U.S. Consulate in Tijuana. Along with an organization called Mujer PYME, they organized a two-week business development boot camp to help women entrepreneurs in the San Diego and Tijuana region develop and scale their businesses within the formal economy leading to greater bilateral trade. A key area highlighted was navigation of the U.S.-Mexico trade laws, customs, and tax codes to take advantage of the new US-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement. From the 80 applicants, 30 were selected to participate in business skills training workshops. The top 15 business plans were invited to a pitch competition for potential funding from private sector sources.
As a follow-up to the workshop, I led a roundtable in Southern California bringing together beneficiaries of the POWER project with the Orange County Chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners to identify synergies in support of women-led business activities across the border.
We received our second round of proposals and we are very excited to select the best among them. They include topics such as access to investors and fund managers, facilitating e-commerce, better utilization of trade agreements and creating fair trade markets.
Our next tier under development is a domestic outreach strategy which will better facilitate the U.S. nexus part of the initiative. We’ll have a POWER tool-kit designed to inform the American private sector on how to utilize their specific expertise in our program and how to partner with our embassies on projects. It will also provide a deeper blueprint for our diplomats overseas to explore connections with you in their POWER proposals, fulfilling the U.S. nexus criteria.
One of my favorite POWER inspired stories involves organic efforts by our Econ Team to better utilize women-owned businesses. At one of our embassies in South America, our economic officers noticed that very few of the bidders on embassy contracts were women-owned companies. After some thought, they developed a simple training for women-owned businesses to provide information on procurement opportunities with the Embassy. Within one year after this simple information exercise, the amount of women-owned business contracts with the Embassy went from $74,000 in 2016 to over $440,000 in 2017.
Significantly, the effort benefitted the American tax-payer. It resulted in more cost-effective options from which the Embassy could choose. By engaging women-owned businesses, the embassy increased competition in the market, which in turn, lowered costs for U.S. taxpayers. Free-markets and women entrepreneurs: a phenomenal combination.
In conclusion, when we say economic empowerment of women, by now, we know that it is synonymous with contribution to the world economy at large. This has been determined by extensive studies in both the public and private sector. It's also why we choose to ensure that private sector partners are an integral part of POWER.
We want to hear from every part of the community on how to make it more effective, how we can better shape it to achieve the very important goals we have outlined. I want to thank my amazing staff, especially Dr Beeta Ehadie, who is a brilliant engineer and therefore assembled POWER for us. And Kristine Bucci, who provides the rock-solid support.
And I want to thank you for coming today. I know it’s a challenging period to be out in groups of people and I also know I am speaking to a group of fearless leaders.
When it comes to our remarkable women entrepreneurs, our economy and our future, I want to leave you with President Trump’s words from his State of the Union earlier this year, “This nation is our canvas, and this country is our masterpiece. We look at tomorrow and see unlimited frontiers just waiting to be explored. Our brightest discoveries are not yet known. Our most thrilling stories are not yet told. Our grandest journeys are not yet made.”
With that, I invite you to come with us on our journey. Thank you and God bless you all.